Former B.C. pro wrestlers add their voices to industry's own version of #MeToo
Harmoni Cowan, who wrestled as Desiree Brent, alleges she was bullied to where she ‘didn't want to live'
Harmoni Cowan fell in love with wrestling watching her uncle stomp around the living room like the Bushwackers — a tag team famous for raising their arms above their heads as they marched to the ring.
She went to her first live show in Metro Vancouver sometime around 2007 and decided she needed to get into the ring herself.
"I was hooked," she said. "I had to be part of it."
For Cowan, who wrestled as Desiree Brent, the high of performing was greater than the low of the alleged bullying, injuries and depression she battled through until she walked away in 2018.
Cowan says she thought about her old alter ego, Desiree, last month when wrestlers all over the world started sharing stories about sexual harassment, abuse and bullying within the industry using the hashtag #SpeakingOut.
Pro wrestling was having a reckoning and Cowan wanted Desiree to be part of it.
Several wrestlers with B.C.-based Elite Canadian Championship Wrestling, where Cowan trained, announced last month they were leaving the company due to #SpeakingOut.
In response, ECCW released a statement.
"We were made aware of allegations involving certain members of our promotion. Those members have been removed," it said.
Parm Gill, a referee who quit ECCW in June, says he was disappointed the company didn't provide more details about the allegations.
"They didn't name who was removed," he said. "They had no further comment."
Scott Schnurr, who wrestles under the name Scotty Mac, confirmed to CBC News that co-owner Jeff Duncan is no longer with the company. Schnurr is now the sole owner.
"I want to publicly apologize to anyone and everyone that my immature behaviour has affected," former co-owner Duncan said in a statement. "After extensive self-reflection, it's clear that I must change my behaviour and strive to be a better person."
The bruises Cowan suffered crashing to the canvas during her training in 2008 were painful, but she was proud of them because they symbolized toughness.
Even two broken ankles didn't keep her away from the gym.
She says, however, her time at Elite Canadian Championship Wrestling took a dark turn in 2008 when she helped promote a show that wasn't well attended.
"Everything really fell apart," she said. "I was dealing with a lot of people telling me I was useless."
At the next show, Cowan alleges her car was egged and at the following event, it happened again. When she went outside to check on her vehicle, she alleges some trainees grabbed her while others threw eggs at her.
"There were just eggs all over," she said. "I had to laugh it off like it didn't affect me."
Cowan says she and her trainer both left for another promotion later that year. In an email, Schnurr says he was wrestling for ECCW at the time but had not yet become an owner.
"I am disappointed to hear of Harmoni's experience and condemn the alleged behaviour," he said. "I took ownership of ECCW in September 2010, at which point she was no longer involved with the company. As such, I cannot meaningfully comment on her claims."
'Just let me try'
After Cowan left ECCW, she was working as a manager for another promotion at a show in Washington state. Her character was a classic villain — a narcissist who riled up the crowd by acting like she was better looking than they were.
She alleges people in the crowd took unflattering pictures of her and posted them on social media where cruel comments were made.
"How can you do this to someone who hasn't done anything to you?" she said. "Stop pushing me down and just let me try. This is all I want to do."
Cowan says she fell into a deep depression after the incident.
"I just didn't want to be alive anymore," she said. "I don't know how but I got through it."
Emma Power's story
Emma Power didn't know much about wrestling when she went to her first live show but she appreciated theatre, so she was immediately drawn in.
She started training with ECCW and did camerawork around the ring during shows.
During the intermission at an event in 2019, Power alleges a member of ECCW made an inappropriate comment.
"He told me that the audience was paying more attention to my ass than the actual wrestling match," she said. "He suggested I wear shorter shorts."
Power reported the incident to one of her trainers who, she says, was supportive.
Soon after, she says, she met with her trainer and Duncan, telling them she didn't want any more interactions with the person who allegedly made the comment.
Minutes after the meeting, Power alleges Schnurr called a locker room meeting where the subject of her complaint was allowed to speak.
"He basically gave him the opportunity to address the situation and say, 'I'm sorry you feel that way,'" Power said.
Schnurr says the subject of the complaint was removed from ECCW.
"The individual took it upon himself to address the matter publicly, with Emma in attendance," Schnurr said. "That should not have happened."
Cowan, Gill and Power all share the hope that #SpeakingOut will lead to positive changes in the industry. Cowan says if the movement removes the bullies from wrestling, Desiree Brent might make a comeback.
"I would go back in a heartbeat," Cowan said. "I love wrestling so much. It makes me feel closer to my uncle."
CBC Vancouver's Impact Team investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community and strives to hold individuals, institutions and organizations to account. If you have a story for us, email email@example.com.
With files from Matt Meuse